The FLO Consensus
During Occupy Wall Street’s brief history, the OWS community has asserted numerous times the importance it places on freely sharing information, defining itself as a FLO movement. TheDeclaration of the Occupation of New Yorkinstructs us to “generate solutions accessible to all”; thePrinciples of Solidarityrequests we make “technologies, knowledge, and culture open to all to freely access, create, modify, and distribute”; and theStatement of Autonomydefines Occupy Wall Street by saying it “is not a business, a political party, an advertising campaign or a brand.”
For people truly interested in transforming the world, solving the big problems and empowering each other to self-actualize, intellectual property is a nuisance that gets in the way of productive collaborations that generate solutions anyone can use. Common sense dictates that if we, the people, share a problem, we should work together to produce free (meaning both gratis, as in no cost; and libre, as in no restrictions) solutions to everyday challenges that are also openly accessible so anyone can use, edit, modify and even sell to others. Yet the vast majority of the general public isn’t even aware that such a possibility exist, much less that the FLO movement exists to do just that. For many activists and do-gooders who have not fully ingested the “FLO Everything pill”, the idea of a free/libre/open source world in which abundant information technologies leads to an abundance of the material things sounds unbelievable at best and disillusion at worst. For those of us who have taken the pill, however, that world of abundance is an often experienced reality that motivates a type of distributed activism that’s unique in the western world.
The easiest way to share that abundant reality is through the food system, and the food system is ready for an information revolution. If you ask any small farmer about the quality of their tools, they’ll tell you that the big agricultural corporations are neglecting them. Monsanto, John Deere, Cargill and others have shifted their focus from small scale farmers to industrial farm operators. This leaves small farmers, those whom Jefferson considered the backbone of American democracy, with a poor selection of products and services from which to choose and the FLO community with a massive opportunity to break into the agricultural market.
Conventionally, large corporations have the advantage when it comes to industrial innovation because they have the capital necessary to support expensive research and development initiatives. FLO hardware can only be viable when information technologies are sophisticated enough to allow individuals to take responsibility for their own capital needs while aggregating their innovation with others to produce something that everyone can own. Innovations in FLO software make this possible. FLO computer aided design (CAD) technologies enable people to transfer production ready schematics in a single file and subversioning technologies like GIT enable people to track changes to keep file histories organized. 3D printers, torch tables and CNC machines are all emerging to make small scale, micro factories not only possible but profitable. Factor e Farm is producing FLO brick presses in Missouri that are cheaper than their industrial, mass produced competitors by a factor of three. As Marcin Jacobowski of Factor e Farm says in his TED talk:
“This is only the beginning. If this idea is truly sound, than the implications are significant. A greater distribution of the means of production, environmentally sound supply chain and a newly relevant DIY maker culture can hope to transcend artificial scarcity. We’re exploring the limits of what we can all do to make a better world with open hardware technology.”
In the digital realm, the troubleshooting process is relatively easy – you turn it on, it doesn’t work, and you turn it off. In the physical realm, depending on what you’re building, the cost of failure is real: both in time and resources. If, for example, someone tried a new tractor design feature and it failed, the cost is substantial in materials, capital and time. So substantial, in vast, that the vast majority of small farmers, hardware innovation is prohibitively expensive. Fortunately, land use innovation is not.
If there is any doubt that America is in need of dramatically improving the way its residents manage land, consider that American farmers are paid by the government to destroy their crops. This isn’t a conspiracy: it’s an acknowledged practice and proof that we need widespread distribution of permacultural practices such as natural building, intensive agro-forestry, concentrated solar construction, and other DIY innovations. Armed with the knowledge of how to produce wealth with land, America’s energetic youth can build their own communities – earth brick by earth brick. By bridging the gap between those who desire a new society and the more docile older population who owns the land but prefer to spend their time pursuing other pastimes, Occupy Farms is organizing the infrastructure for a new, FLO economy. If we exhaust the resources of friendly land owners, we can take the land from the Federal government, which owns 29% America, mostly in the western states. Just a small fraction of Federal land could support all the Americans who want to transition from the industrial lifestyle to a more ecologically sensitive and liberated one.
This lifestyle doesn’t necessarily involve conventional farming, which has a well deserved reputation as being hard work. Permacultural practices produce ample amounts of food but in a different way. While farming focus on producing crops that need to be planted and harvested every year, permaculture focuses on creating abundant landscapes that produce more per acre over the long term. Permaculturists design their landscapes in layers. For example, a permaculturist will plant nut trees, vines, berry bushes and grown crops all in the same space. Once planted, these crops require minimal maintenance, and when mature, the space will produce food consistently over the course of the year, every year. Permaculturists proudly call themselves lazy farmers and viewing their horticultural approach as an evolution of conventional agriculture and the foundation of a solutions-based social movement of its own. While their natural instinct is to share as much information as possible with any and all people who’re interested in a more sustainable lifestyle, their exposure to FLO practices is minimal so the community is still producing more books than semantically structure online knowledge resources, but that’s changing thanks to projects like Appropedia.org, Farmhack.org and OpenSourceEcology.org. Each of these projects have Occupy activists embedded within them who are coordinating with each other to ensure that we’re all ready to integrate our resources when the time come.
A master plan for revolution is organically emerging that involves the development of a competency in useful FLO solutions within the occupy community, the distribution of FLO solutions through networks of rural farms, urban occupied spaces and allied communities, and the manifestation of a new set of exchange practices that can replace the coercive neoliberal economic model with something more conducive to the collaborative production practices of a FLO economy.
FLO economics can’t exist without FLO money. Fortunately, money is just a technology and there’s already a sufficient FLO alternative to the Federal Reserve Note called Bitcoin. While the mainstream media likes to pretend that Bitcoin is a product you can purchase, it’s better understood as a software service people can deploy to create their own cryptographically secure digital currency network. Just as physical currency has security features such as intricate designs, unique textures and exotic printed features, digital currency requires cryptographic features to remain secure. One way to understand Bitcoin is to focus on its physical features. A Bitcoin is a long string of information – numbers, letters and symbols – that can be printed out as a QR code. That QR code contains the Bitcoin. If you give it to someone, they have the Bitcoin. When they scan the QR code, the Bitcoin is transferred onto a computer and automatically authenticated by the network of computers running the Bitcoin software. Once authenticated, the network changes the Bitcoin, so the QR code can’t be reused. If someone wants to create a physical Bitcoin again, they have to print out a new QR code.
Just as a Federal Reserve Note is one part of our currency ecosystem which also includes everything from gift certificates and credit cards to complex derivatives, Bitcoin is one tool in a toolbox of alternative currency technologies that are emerging to support the new types of exchanges being motivated by FLO economics. It’ll be quite some time before a FLO currency can provide its users with the breadth of economic exchange possibilities as the Federal Reserve Note, it won’t be long before someone in the Northeastern United States York purchases some local produce from an occupied farm using FLO currency systems. Indeed, by the time you’ve read this, it might have already taken place.
“The revolution is here – it’s just not everywhere.”